Skip to main content

tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  February 7, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm PST

6:00 pm
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> ifill: good evening. i'm gwen ifill. the egyptian government moved to defuse the protests today, offering public sector workers a pay raise. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. on the newshour tonight, margaret warner reports from cairo with reaction from people inside and outside the city's central square. >> ifill: and we assess the state of negotiations aimed at ending the uprising. >> brown: then we look at president obama's outreach to corporate america in a speech to the u.s. chamber of commerce. >> but i want to be clear. even as we make america the best place on earth to do business, businesses also have a responsibility to america.
6:01 pm
>> ifill: judy woodruff talks to actress and playwright anna deveare smith about her one- woman play on facing the end of life. >> i say that it is about the vulnerability of the human body, the resilience of the spirit, the price of care. >> brown: and we examine aol's big buy of the web site the huffington post, with arianna huffington and aol chief tim armstrong. >> ifill: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> breathe in. breathe out. as volatile as markets have been lately, having the security of a strong financial partner certainly lets you breathe easier. for more than 140 years pacific life has helped millions of americans build a secure financial future. wouldn't it be nice to take a deep breath and relax? your financial professional can tell you about pacific life, the power to help you succeed.
6:02 pm
>> you can't manufacture pride. but pride builds great cars. and you'll find it in the ople at toyota all across america. >> chevron. investing chevron. by bnsf railway. >> and by the bill and melinda gates foundation. dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live a healthy, productive life. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
6:03 pm
>> ifill: the government of egyptian president hosni mubarak offered new concessions today, after starting talks with opposition leaders. meanwhile, u.s. officials took a cautious tack. newshour correspondent kwame holman begins our coverage. >> reporter: around cairo there were some signs of a return to normalcy, with banks, post offices and gas stations open for a second straight day. president hosni mubarak also tried to return to routine with his first cabinet meeting since the protests began. it concluded with the announcement of a 15% raise for government employees. that followed a series of weekend concessions aimed at diffusing popular anger from creating a committee of well known public figures to review the country's constitution to investigating election fraud and official corruption. the regime also offered greater freedom of the press and the eventual lifting of
6:04 pm
longstanding emergency laws. in addition, authorities began releasing some detained protestors, including google executive who had been held since january 28. in washington today, president obama credited with egyptian government with moving ahead. >> obviously we just have to negotiate a path. i think we're making progress. >> reporter: but over the weekend there were sometimes conflicting signals. starting with former ambassador to egypt frank wisner who met with mubarak last week and said this on saturday. >> the president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through. i therefore believe that president mubarak's continued leadership is critical. >> reporter: his words drew criticism from egyptian opposition groups, and u.s. officials insisted he spoke only for himself. state department spokesman p.j. crowley. >> he did so as a private citizen. those views are his own. they do not reflect the views
6:05 pm
of the united states government. >> reporter: still president obama again stopped short of calling for mubarak to resign now in his sunday interview with fox news. >> only he knows what he's going to do. here's what we know is that egypt is not going to go back to what it was. >> reporter: there also was word today of the human cost of forcing change. human rights watch reported nearly 300 people have died so far in the two-week-old uprising. >> ifill: now to the view from the streets and the people of cairo, and to our correspondent on the ground, margaret warner. >> warner: day 14 of the popular uprising in egypt. there's no sign that the protestors in tahrir square are going anywhere. on land bought with the blood of comrades whom the throngs here now call martyrs. >> they died for us to live. >> warner: after roller coaster days of peaceful protests and mayhem a sense of promise has returned to this
6:06 pm
broad cross-section of egyptian society assembled in central cairo. >> please, mubarak, if you love egypt, you must go now. >> warner: but there has been no waivering in one demand. the 30-year reign of president hosni mubarak must end now. >> we want this man to go because we don't trust him. we want a peaceful transition of power. we can do it. >> warner: yet less than a mile from tahrir just across the nile in the middle class neighborhood, normal life has begun to return. traffic snarled, horns blaring. from the butcher's block to the fish monger, to a local cafe, many express sympathy and support for the protests and the ground gained. but they say now that mu bar... mubarak has pledged not to run again and to open up egypt's political system, it's time to get back to work. this concert vile owe lynnist. >> the most important thing about this is that life go on
6:07 pm
peacefully. 90% of the goals are achieved. >> warner: that sentiment that the protestors have largely gotten what they wanted and that mubarak should be treated with respect was repeated by many like high school teacher. >> they're asking for more. they were given an inch. now they try to take a mile. president mubarak is the biggest arab leader. we should all pay him a debt: respect and love. >> warner: but this big arab arab leader let the institutions of civic life and democratic principles rot in three decades of repressive rule, says corporate lawyer mohammed balel. he joined in the protests. >> we want justice. that's the idea. we want justice. we want the elections. we want a constitution. we don't want another pharaoh. >> warner: the list of grievances here is long, not just the political repression but a liberalized economy that is generating wealth for the elite while leaving many egyptians out and the feeling
6:08 pm
among egypt's facebook-wired young arabs that in a fast- changing world they're falling behind. >> egyptian people by nature are patient. they are really, you know, peaceful people. we say, okay, like let it go. it would be... it will solve itself. things will work out. however i think the regime pushed them too much. i think the regime sort of misread this peaceful nature into, you know, started looking down at the people. >> warner: that patience was already wearing thin when the january uprising in tunisia, unseating an entrenched ruler lit a spark across egypt says the secretary-general of the opposition party. >> tunisia did two things. first it gives them a man you'll of how to, you know, depose a repressive regime and build a new one. but it also makes them jealous. egyptians said it's like being beaten. oh, my god.
6:09 pm
we got beaten by tunisia. >> warner: another major factor, the mubarak's regime only insularity from their own constituents. this analyst of of the center for political and strategic studies says the ruling elite never saw this social media- driven uprising coming. >> we have a president who is a little bit out of touch and many people who are quite corrupt around him. there was really a schism between the government and the people. there were no channels of communication, of participation, political parties were, you know, very weak and very tightly controlled. >> warner: in popular revolts elsewhere the military has stepped in to crush opposition. but not here in egypt. army tanks did move in to impose some order but also protected the crowds. >> the people looked to the army not only now but even before with admiration also. and because the army never....
6:10 pm
>> warner: but retired general mohammed, now a widely regarded military analyst, says the protestors can't count on the military to push mubarak out. >> it never happened before. it will not happen now. i cannot imagine that the... they knock the door and say to him, please leave. not because they are afraid to do that but they are afraid that if they did this once, it will be repeated again in the future. and it will be a bad habit. >> warner: that leaves a messy political process to find a solution. new vice president omar suleiman is meeting with some opposition parties including the banned muslim brotherhood. but the mistrustful youth-driven movement who first inspired
6:11 pm
the protests have refused to join any reform process that the regime is insisting it will run. the government believes it can wait them out. >> the strategy now is going to leave the protestors in peace and for life around them to resume as normal. kind of to isolate them and ignore them in a way and to ensure that there is no confrontation. so that the movement fizzles out on its own. >> warner: the uncharted waters have drawn in some unusual actors include a nobel prize winner for chemistry who arrived here from cal tech to try to work a little political al kemy. he's mediating between the government and the key tahrir square leaders. at a press conference sunday he acknowledged the lack of trust among all the players, but he warned there wasn't a moment to waste in finding a compromise. activist, co-founder of women for change, came to hear the
6:12 pm
man who said the tahrir square die-hards have to keep up the pressure. >> this is what i always tell them, the people in the square when i'm there. i'm saying, listen, guys, we are like in the last part of the long, dark tunnel. the very last part. it's either we keep on our strength and courage and... or we're going to be stuck here for at least ten years. >> warner: could this spin out of control? >> it is out of control. it's been out of control for the last 10 days. it's been out of control. the people want mubarak out. this regime is never going to allow this to happen, the fall of the president. by the pressures of the people. >> warner: a recipe for a stand-off between two seemingly implacable foes over the future for egyptians who
6:13 pm
have learned these past two weeks never to say never. >> brown: so where do things stand? for that we get two views. mona eltahawy joins us once again. she's a longtime reporter in the middle east, and now a columnist and lecturer on arab and muslim issues. and michael sing is a former senior director for middle east affairs at the national security council in the george w. bush administration. he's now a visiting fellow at the washington institute for near east policy. mona eltahawy, the question now seems to be whether to negotiate concessions and reforms with the government with mubarak at the helm until his term is up or to continue to insist that he leave. is that where you see things standing? >> well, jeff, this is an incredibly fast-moving revolution. because just before i came out to speak to you, a young man was released from 12 days in detention. and he is the google manager for the middle east and north africa but he also came to be
6:14 pm
known as the anonymous administrator of a facebook page that was instrumental in launching this uprising on january 25. now he was released after 12 days in jail. and the youthful protestors that we heard about in the story had made it as one of their conditions before negotiating with anyone that he be released. upon his release he gave a live tv interview that captivated the entire country. dare i say the entire region. because i was following it on twitter. and people across the entire arab world were watching it and crying with him because he was told that people had died over the past few days while he was in jail. he broke down. he said this is not our fault. this is the regime's fault. in those few moments that he spent on live television, he managed to snatch back the revolution that young people in egypt had launched and that was being threatened by takeover by these older people who are negotiating with the egyptian vice president. so we're at this very interesting moment right now.
6:15 pm
tomorrow people will send out more pro democracy demonstrators on the street. >> brown: michael sing, where do you see things in terms of who speaks for whom here and where are the negotiations? >> it's difficult to know right now. i think from the u.s. perspective the white house has to be very happy that some of the worst outcomes appear to have been averted here. and that broad negotiations appear to be taking place. now it's not clear as mona indicated exactly who the negotiators are speaking for or what their aims are. i mean the concessions that have been offered by the egyptian government. if we had looked at these concessions two or three weeks ago we would have said wow this is actually quite remarkable. these are the things that the u.s. has been calling for now for a number of years. the question really now is, you know, can an accommodation be reached between these old guard government types and the demonstrators whose trump card are really those people in tahrir square who aren't going away so far. >> brown: how much can the old guard or-- and including the president, president mubarak--
6:16 pm
be pushed and how much should they be pushed. >> what the u.s. is probably pushing them for now is take some action. make changes on the ground so that people can see we're not going back to the old way of doing things. i think the government has tried perhaps to do a few of those things. the senior leadership, the ruling party, has stepped down which means they can't run for the presidency in september. we've seen people being released like mr. gonim from google. i think the u.s. will be pushing for more of these types of actions to give it credibility in the eyes of the egyptians. >> brown: when you talk about the old guard does that include the military or elements of the military? where does the military stand in all this? >> it has started to include the military because although during the first few days when the military was sent to the streets, they were seen as the kind of noble, honorable figures who were acting as a buffer between the pro democracy demonstrators and the mubarak thugs who were sent into the street to beat them, their seeming neutrality has turned against them.
6:17 pm
over the past few days, the human rights activists and journalists and bloggers were detained by the military police. there's a lot of ill will and bad feeling generally towards the armed forces amongst the pro democracy demonstrators. mubarak and his men see the world as one. they see the world as part of a regime. they do not trust mubarak and suleiman. they're especially worried about the vice president omar suleiman because they see the united states administration as pushing him as an alternative to mubarak. they see the two as one. they do not make a distinction between suleiman and mubarak. they are worried that a dictator is being replaced by a torturer because of suleiman connection to the rendition program when terrorist suspects were sent to egypt by the administration and suleiman oversaw the torture of all suspects for the united states. >> brown: that's interesting in terms especially in terms of how the u.s. is seen in
6:18 pm
this. is the u.s. position on all of this the vice president, what happens with president mubarak, is it clear? is it coherent? is it confused? how do you see it? >> i'm not sure that it's clear. in statements like ambassador wizner's have added to the confusion. what is the u.s. position here? if you listen to the president and to the secretary of state over the last couple of days, they keep repeating the same thing which is they want an orderly and inclusive transition towards real democracy. >> brown: sometimes they use the word now. sometimes.... >> right, right. i think that where the president has now come out on this is that, well, maybe they don't want president mubarak actually to resign now because there are some problems with that. under the constitution of egypt it would trigger this 60- day period before elections. they're not sure that that's enough time for a real election to happen. i think the position now is that they're happy to see these negotiations. they're going to push both sides to make shg real happen in these negotiations and you're not going to see them taking sides on issues of personalitys or on whether or
6:19 pm
not mubarak should leave immediately or in eight months. >> brown: in margaret warner's piece, there was this notion of a return to something like normalcy. is that where the people in the square are isolated in a sense and life goes on around them. is that a possibility? is that something we might see in the coming days ahead? >> you know, i put it in this sense. i think that the egyptian regime, mubarak, suleiman and the circle around them, is engaged in a war of attrition of sorts. where are the egyptian pro democracy demonstrators in that? digging in their heels. they're hoping that the population at large is saying come on guys he said he'll leave, as we heard in margaret's story just go home. the pro democracy demonstrators are determined. every day their numbers increase. one of the young people instrumental in launching this uprising is a woman who sent out a tweet saying tomorrow we
6:20 pm
want to see ten million people all across egypt. the demonstrators have not been just in tahrir square. they've been all across the country. it's not just focused on tahrir square. that perseverance and determination has not gone. they're really engaged in this kind of one on one with mubarak now. they want to see more pressure put on him and cut u.s. military aid to the mubarak regime, freeze the mubarak regime's assets. he's said to have up to $70 billion of assets across the world. the position of frank wizner is a very strange one. he was sent to be envoy to egypt. he's employed by a country that is employed by the mubarak regime. we have a lot of conflicts of interest going here. we can leverage all of those things to help the pro democracy demonstrators. >> brown: briefly though michael sing at the same time do you see the opposition speaking? there's a lot of divisions there between muslim brotherhood especially and some of the more secular groups. >> i think you see fissures
6:21 pm
within the opposition. i'm not sure there's a common sense of what they want. that may be true on the regime side as well. it's not clear exactly who is going to emerge on the regime side as the leadership role and if they all want the same things. some of the former members are being pursued by the current government for their assets. they've they have travel bans imposed on them. one thing the united states wants to see happen is for an orderly process to develop. in a sense i think they see the military as something which can act as a stabilizing force. i think you're going to see the united states try to ride on both sides to get them to talk seriously to one another. >> brown: thank you both very much. >> thank you, jeff. >> ifill: still to come on the newshour, president obama's appeal to the business community; a celebrated actress takes on death and dying in america; and aol's big buy. but first, with the other news of the day, here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: the government of iraq is moving to address a
6:22 pm
wave of protests there. the largest were on sunday in baghdad, basra, ramadi, and mosul. iraqis demanded better electricity and more jobs, as well as a crackdown on crime and corruption. prime minister nouri al maliki pledged to increase monthly food rations. he also rejected any use of violence against the demonstrators. several hundred people clashed with police today if haiti. they demanded that the president leave office immediately instead of waiting until the presidential run-off elections takes his successor in march. the protestors threw stones and burned tires. police fired shots in the air and fired gear tass to break up the crowd. there was no word of injuries. final results today showed southern sudan has voted overwhelmingly for independence. more than 98% of voters chose to secede from the north in the january balloting. the referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal ending two decades of civil war. the president of sudan, omar al- bashir, accepted the results and congratulated the south.
6:23 pm
the official division of >> i salute you and thank you in appreciation. the good and senior efforts you have made in order to achieve this important and serious task. >> sreenivasan: the official division of africa's largest nation into two countries is slated for july 9. troops from cambodia and thailand clashed for a fourth day along their border. the trouble began friday, involving an 11th-century temple site that both sides claim. at least seven people have been killed, and the temple has been damaged by shelling. after today's battle, the two countries agreed to an unofficial cease-fire. on wall street today, stocks got the week off to a good start on news of several mergers. the dow jones industrial average gained 69 points to close at 12,161. the nasdaq rose more than 14 points to close just under 2784. green bay packers fans celebrated today after the franchise won its fourth super bowl. sunday's victory over the pittsburgh steelers, 31-25, went down to the final minutes. for green bay, it was the first
6:24 pm
nfl championship in 14 years. and with 111 million viewers, it became the most watched program in u.s. television history. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to gwen. >> ifill: now, the obama administration's new romance with the business community. who stands to gain? only one city block separates the white house from the headquarters of the chamber of commerce. today president obama sought to close even that distance, acknowledging right off the bat that the two have not always seen eye to eye. >> i'm here in the interest of being more neighborly. i've strolled over from across the street. look, maybe if we brought over a fruit cake when i first moved in, we would have gotten off to a better start. >> ifill: the tensions between democrats in the business community are rooted in policy and politics.
6:25 pm
the chamber spent more than $50 million during the 2010 mid-term campaign, much of it on television ads aimed at electing republicans who promised to derail the president's legislative agenda. >> supports the pelosi-obama big government takeover of health care. >> ifill: that strategy met with some success. republicans won a majority in the house and picked up six senate seats. since then the president has brokered and signed a tax cut deal that helped business and pledged to relax regulations and revise the corporate tax code. he's also filled key administration posts with advisors like new chief of staff and former commerce secretary william daily, perceived as friendly to the business community. in his address today the president said business and government share a common even patriotic goal. >> we have a renew people's faith in the promise of this country that this is a place where you can make it if you try. we have to do this together.
6:26 pm
business and government. workers and ceos. democrats and republicans. >> ifill: mr. obama called on businesses to do their part by hiring more workers. >> today american companies have nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets. i know that many of you have told me that you're waiting for demand to rise before you get off the side lines and expand. that with millions of americans out of work demand has risen more slowly than any of us would like. we're in this together. but many of your own economists and salespeople are now forecasting a healthy increase in demand. so i just want to encourage you to get in the game. >> ifill: senate republican leader mitch mcconnell said he's waiting to see that the obama administration means what it says. >> as i've said before what the president says matters a lot less than what he does. so we'll just have to wait and see whether the president's actions support his rhetoric.
6:27 pm
>> ifill: but some business leaders say they are willing to listen. the chamber has endorsed the white house plan to spend more on transportation and communications networks, a proposal some republicans say will lead to wasteful government spending. two views now about the president's dealings with the business world, and how that might impact jobs and growth. dave adkisson attended the speech today as president and c.e.o. of the kentucky chamber of commerce. and harold meyerson is editor- at-large at the "american prospect," and a columnist for the "washington post." mr. adkisson, as you sat today watching the president, what did you think the purpose of that speech was? what was that about? >> well, i think it was a major gesture after several contentious months between the business community and the administration. i think it was an important symbolic but substantive way in which the president reached out to the business community. i think that's welcome. >> ifill: how did it go over? >> it went over well. he received a standing ovation at the beginning and the end. applause in between occasionally. i think it was a good message for the business community to hear.
6:28 pm
obviously people will wait to see how that becomes policy, how that plays out in the give-and-take between the administration and other policy-makers. but basically well received. i think it was an important gesture in which a new relationship can be built. >> ifill: harold meyerson, what do you think he is up to and why is he doing it this way? >> the president is in a tough spot. he's got to generate jobs for the nation and for his own re-election. and the public sector is pretty much maxed out at this point. politically there's no more support for anymore stimulus than there has been. state and local governments are going to be cutting back the number of employees. that puts the ball in the court of the people sitting over at the chamber of commerce. so the president basically came over and said, "please help." that's part of what he's doing. the other part is political. the other part is to convey the impression that he's not the divisive president some have accused him of being, that he can get along with
6:29 pm
centrists. there's a third factor way down the line which is in 2012 as he draws sort of a more centrist republican like mitt romney or mitch daniels the governor of indiana as his opponent this is pretty much go to them. should the nominee be someone like sarah palin or former arkansas governor mike huckabee it's quite possible obama will get significant corporate support. i think all of those are part of his calculations. >> ifill: the president said to the business people in the room today get in the game. come with me. what do you think he was saying that he thought he was saying to you. what did you hear him saying to you? >> well, i think we share a common goal. that is for this recovery to become a jobs recovery. so he's encouraging the business community that has been cautious, has been nervous, to start investing in america. >> ifill: sitting on a lot of cash. >> sitting on a lot of cash. that's right, that's right. but there are concerns there. there are concerns about hyper
6:30 pm
regulatory environment in some industries. that's very much an inhibitor. there are concerns about tax policy. whether or not washington is going to get its act together in terms of spending and the entitlement programs. all of those things make for a very cautious environment. plus these businesses a lot of them have been burned in the last two or three years. i've talked to people in commercial real estate and other areas of business that have... they're still saying ouch from what happened in '09. >> ifill: does that explain the disconnect we see between this high employment rate and evidence that so many businesses are rebound something. >> well, big businesses are rebounding. i'm not sure small business is rebounding. but big business-- and this is important-- they're not necessarily rebounding here. the growing markets in the world if you're a multi-national corporation as all of our big businesses are are those in china and brazil and india. the percentage of revenues that these companies get from those and other nations is now
6:31 pm
about half of their total revenue. that's up from a third back in 2000. so their sales are abroad and increasingly for many of these companies their production is abroad. and that i think is the real conundrum with this recession. that's what makes this recession different from all earlier recessions. >> ifill: interesting because we saw in the piece there the u.s. trade representative sitting front and center with the administration. that was one of the few admittedly applause lines that the president got in the meat of his speech which was talking about trade. how much of that is a pitch to get everybody on board on the things you can agree on? and then attack the things you can't agree on later on in. >> right. there are areas like trade, the south korean trade agreement, the proposal to have a trade agreement with columbia and panama. those are important to the business community. i read a story in kentucky the other day that over 50% of our agricultural jobs now are related to exports. as the middle class grows in
6:32 pm
china and in india and they add protein to their diet, nurd, they add meat to their diet, we're selling them corn beans and soy for the agricultural products they need over there. there's a growing awareness that trade and of course trade is a big part of our recovery. how much? we'll have to wait and see. the administration and the chamber share this goal of trying to double exports in the next five years. >> ifill: at what point does the president's repeated promise to relax regulation to make things better for business or to revise the corporate tax code, how much... at what point do, i guess, liberals begin to worry that he's giving away the farm? >> i think revising the corporate tax code may be, as he presents it, pretty much of a neutral endeavor. it would be lowering the overall rate but closing a bunch of loopholes. it's not clear that the percentage of money coming into the federal government from corporations would be any less. at the end of the day.
6:33 pm
the regulations are something else. i think there's a hope and expectation that it's not going to... workplace safety not affect things like minimum wage. and environmental regulations. liberal community absolutely is counting on the president to hang tough on this. that's one of the core values of the democratic party. so i think that could be some real whistle and bells ringing and blowing if we begin to see some weakening of those... on those issues. >> ifill: there are already some whistles and bells blowing on the conservative side of this when the president talks about infrastructure and investment. the "i" words. they hear spending. what did you hear? >> i think the details will matter here. i think the business community will be tuned in to the president's budget speech to find out exactly what is meant by those investments. but the business community favors investment in
6:34 pm
infrastructure and in spreading broadband to rural areas, for example. investing in research and development. investing in higher education. we did a study in kentucky and found out that the... a lot of what we would all agree we should be investing in like education and higher ed, that was actually decreasing in our state because of problems like public employee pensions. and medicaid. and our prison system. so i think we have to look at where we're spending and be very smart about strategic investments. >> ifill: you're saying that was because of spending on those three areas. >> spending in those three areas was taking money away from strategic investment in education. that was obviously a problem for the business community in kentucky. >> ifill: the root of this always is the question of what government's role should be in getting the corporate sector to play. in issues like this. to help bring the economy back. there's a trust factor here. there's a trust factor that people on the left have toward the president. and there's a trust factor that people have on the right for the president.
6:35 pm
he's trying to negotiate a tight rope in the middle. how do you define that? >> well, the democratic party, lib als, the places where the president comes from, have always believed there's a strong role for government because in the things that david is talking about in infrastruk tour but also in regulatoring businesses successes such as the kind of things that led us to the wall street collapse of 2008. i mean, when banks complained that, oh, we can't do the things we used to do. that's going to cut down our growth. the things they used to do cost us eight million jobs. i mean government is important for establishing rules that keep the private sector sometimes from self-destructing. >> ifill: okay. we'll leave it there for tonight. we'll revis it it i suspect soon. harold meyerson, david adkisson, thank you both very much. >> thank you. >> good to be here. >> brown: next, even as the health care reform debate continues here in washington and
6:36 pm
the courts, a new play brings the subject to another stage, literally, as it tours the country. judy woodruff has the story. >> it's not like there's some glorified god. those gods are gone. thank heaven thank heaven. >> woodruff: in the world of theater even in the world of one-person shows perhaps no other actor has portrayed as many real people on stage as anna deveare smith whether she's playing a bull rider from idaho toughing out painful surgery. >> i had to be at a rodeo that night. i didn't really want them to put me under... however you say that word. >> woodruff: the brother of a man murdered in a new york race riot. >> my brother was starved in the streets of crown heights for no other reason than he was a jew. >> woodruff: or seven-time tour de france winner lance armstrong talking about his competitive drive. >> one guy was five times
6:37 pm
second in the tour de france. hard to beat him. >> woodruff: smith is best known as a playwright and artist who uses people's words, dialects and physical gestures to illuminate the large political and social issues of our time. like race and economic disparity. in doing so, her plays are known for incorporating a wide variety of viewpoints. some in direct conflict with each other. always portrayed with great empathy. >> now we're all one people. i think what he meant was the respect that we give each other under the banner of being the children of god. >> reporter: her latest show "let me down easy" now playing at the reopened arena stage in washington d.c., takes that approach in tackling one of the most charged issues in america today: health care.
6:38 pm
she first began thinking about it more than a decade ago. when the yale school of medicine asked her to speak with doctors and patients about their personal experiences with care. and then present those perspectives back to physicians in a performance during what's known as medical grand round. >> it seemed like the kind of thing that, you know, a scientist from germany would come and talk. here i am a clown basically performing, pretending to be other people. why would they want a performance there? i think the other thing that was making me a little bit nervous was actually did i want to deal with sickness? did i want to be close to sickness? you know, the other bad word, mortality. i wasn't sure about that. >> woodruff: but she was intrigued by the subject and realized there was an important role for art in describing the problems of modern medicine. >> now i understand that what we can give from the arts is
6:39 pm
our ability to tell the human story and one of the subjects right now i think in a field like medicine is do doctors have time to listen to you? >> woodruff: she listened to how it affects patients as well. like the case of one patient at yale new haven hospital who was told by doctors that her file was misplaced. >> he said are you working full time? i said i am. he said, where are you working? i said, i'm a associate dean at the medical school. now he looks up. now he looks up. he said, at this medical school? i said, at the yale school of medicine. he found my files within a half an hour. >> woodruff: the show had a long evolution. while working on other projects, smith eventually
6:40 pm
interviewed more than 300 people. several productions were mounted. by the time it landed in new york at second stage theater last year, it had a new relevance because of the big debate over health care reform. >> interestingly enough, in 2000 is when i first did it. it wasn't really... we weren't really talking about it yet. so as i went to new york and it was really a part of the national conversation, i decided to focus it down so that it could be the human side of the health care debate. >> woodruff: the leaner piece now examines health care in america through the eyes of 20 different people, focusing on questions of access, disparity, illness, and mortality. >> so the short-hand description of what this is about is it's about health care. but it's really about much more than that, isn't it? >> well, i say that it is about the vulnerability. human body, the resilience of the spirit, the price of care.
6:41 pm
but last night an episcopal minister came to see the show. he said that the show is about the good news. the good news is that regardless of how heavy your struggle is, grace and kindness will win. >> woodruff: grace is certainly in plentiful supply in the play. but the show also chronicles a very real difficulties americans encounter. such as what a doctor at chairity hospital in new orleans recalls telling her patient about evacuations in the wake of hurricane katrina. >> and he said, well, do you think they're eventually going to come and get us? and i said, i don't know. i said, i just don't really know. that made me feel so crappy and ashamed a little bit. like ashamed, not to be able to do for people what i wanted to do which was to get them the hell out of here and to a
6:42 pm
safe place. i mean my patients at chairity they're not dumb. the nurses at chairity they're not dumb. they knew we would be the last ones out. they knew that the patients in the private hospitals had private helicopters. it wasn't, you know, it wasn't a shock to anybody. >> as people come to see "let me down easy," they are bringing a whole host of experiences that they have had in the health care system, that the people that they love have in the health care system. if i'm working well, a kind of chemistry between what they're bringing and what i'm trying to give and maybe there's a different mix by the time they leave or they're reminded of something that is very precious to them. >> woodruff: smith has had her share of film and television work including roles as the president's national security advisor on the west wing. or more recently as a hospital administrator on nurse jackie, on show time. but smith's most personal work is in the theater. that's reflected in this show,
6:43 pm
a supporter of the health care reform law, she says the national debate influenced her play. now she's hoping the show can have a role in sparking conversation about the choices americans face. >> who is going to take care of everybody? how is that going to happen? and i think that's one reason that the debate is so volatile. because i think the people who really are in the know understand how big that problem is. and that we are not going to be able to have everything. i'm sure that even the people who want to repeal the act want a caring nation. and the question is, how will that happen? >> woodruff: in all of her pieces smith captures people's mannerisms, their ticks, their own words to reveal character. such as the bull rider in "let me down easy." >> and he said-- and i think this is something that speaks for so many americans regardless of where they sit--
6:44 pm
he's talking about, you know, when you're riding a bull. you think about it. you shouldn't be able to stay on the back of a bull trying to buck you off because we weigh like 150 pounds. they weigh like over 2,000 pounds. it would be like... you know, you can't stay on top of every bull. but i think it's determination. yeah, i think it comes from inside you. what keeps you on that bull. i think that idea that if you think about it, we shouldn't be able to stay on the back of a bull. but what keeps you on the back of that bull is something from inside you. determination. i think one of the things i've learned about american character in these years that i've been doing my project is that we do all believe that we can stay on top of that bull. >> woodruff: "let me down easy" plays in washington through mid february.
6:45 pm
its national tour will continue to four more cities: philadelphia, columbus, ohio, san francisco, and san diego. >> ifill: pbs great performances is taping "let me down easy" washington run and plans to air it next season. >> brown: finally tonight, a surprise marriage in the world of technology and media. aol announces it will buy the huffington post for $315 million. a.o.l. has struggled to move away from selling on-line access. the service for which it first became renown as an internet pioneer. trying to remake itself as a broader content company it recently purchased sites including the locally focused patch dot-com and the technology blog tech crunch. but today's move is a.o.l.'s biggest by far. just six years old, the huffington post has become one of the web's most popular news and opinion sites. known for its liberal commentary.
6:46 pm
it reaches more than 20 million unique visitors a month with material aggregated from other sources as well as original stories by its own journalists. a.o.l. merged with time warner at the height of the tech bubble. that deal was widely considered a failure. and the two companies formally separated in 2009. and joining me now from new york are aol c.e.o. tim armstrong and arianna huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of the "huffington post." tim armstrong, you've had declines in revenues recently, declines in ad sales. ken all it of the new yorker who helps out on the media issues called this purchase a hail mary pass to demonstrate that a.o.l. could mount a comeback from the near dead. is that what this is? >> no. i've known ken for years. i think we probably have a big difference of opinion. i think today is a great day for the future of a.o.l. and a great day for huffington post. we're able to serve 120
6:47 pm
million users roughly in the united states, 270 million globally with great content from the huffington post as well as our properties. and we are big believers in the next days the internet is about content. so i think today is a monumental day for us on strategy, on point with what we said we were going to do a year-and-a-half ago which was to turn a.o.l. into the next american content company and global media company. i think today is a step in that direction. we're also incredibly excited to be joined by arianna huffington who i would consider to be one of the most talented people in the media space and a great female entrepreneur for the web. >> brown: ms. huffington, what do you get out of this? you take control over all editorial content i gather. you already have that at huffington post. what do you get from this? >> well, this is an amazing merger of visions. what tim wants to do with a.o.l. and what i've been wanting to do at the huffington post can now be dramatically accelerated.
6:48 pm
it's a little bit for us as though we are getting off a fast-moving train and getting into a super sonic jet. it's amazing to see the work, for example, that we can now do on the local space, the global space, around engagement, the women's space and with the original reporting. these were our highest priorities for 2011. now we can work on all of them all at once. just to give you one example with lockout. patch dot-com, a.o.l.'s local initiative, is in 800 towns. with professional journalists covering the stories, reinventing local reporting, focusing on volunteer opportunities and community solutions. thals incredibly important at the moment. especially as large numbers of our cities are losing trust in national institutions to be able to empower them through focusing on what is working at the community level is key. and the major opportunity for us as we are looking at our
6:49 pm
coverage of the 2011 elections. >> brown: mr. armstrong, to play devil's advocate here, does a.o.l. risk something to its brand by partnering with huffington post, given its reputation as a liberal left commentary site? >> i think first and foremost i think arianna huffington has moved that brand well beyond that description. i think kind of going beyond left and right as a tag line i think ms. huffington talks about. more importantly we have a stable of brands at a.o.l. and i think huffington post, renaming the stable of content programs the huffington post media group of which she will be president and editor in chief that includes tech crunch and movie phone and map quest and patch and all those things. i think from a standpoint of editorial, you know, a.o.l. historically has played in a very deep way across many different verticals in the
6:50 pm
content space. huffington post adds a very large new dimension to that. but my guess is she has the same interests we do which is serving consumers' needs and going beyond the just straight political needs of people. i think the majority 85% of huffington post content at this point is not driven around politics. i think you're seeing the creation of the next highly inter-active, highly social and future media company at a.o.l.. >> brown: but ms. huffington, whether it's 15% or more, how do you negotiate this new position? do you now worry more about political views? getting other views on there? how do you deal with that? >> not at all. this has been my position for years now. i have talked obsessively, sometimes i'm tired of hearing myself say it's time for all of us in journalism to move beyond left and right. truly it is an obsolete way of looking at the problems america is facing. what's happening to the middle class? what's happening in our
6:51 pm
foreign policy? afghanistan are not easily divided into left, right positions. people have different positions across the political spectrum. all voices have been welcome at the huffington post. people ranging from newt gingrich to david from and joe scarborough. and tony brinkley have been blogging on the huffington post. that is simply not at all what we have been providing. on top of it, we have been covering 26 other sections including living, entertainment, college, books, divorce was our 26th section launched a few months ago. so our interest is in providing everything that consumers need and doing it in a way that gives not just data but stories. >> brown: mr. armstrong, of course the larger issue still is how does anyone make money
6:52 pm
on the internet? a.o.l. still has its subscribers, of course, for its old services but that can't last, i suppose. does this come down to all the marbles on ad revenues getting as many eyeballs to the site as possible? with ads? >> yeah, look, i think the ad marketplace for the internet is going to be a tremendous growth source for the next couple decades. and if you look at what customers want-- and we've spent a lot of times with customers. we have a lot of feedback from some of the large of the customers in the world-- they want the internet to have engaged content and engaged platforms that really are community driven, social driven. national. local i think a reliance on advertising is actually a reliance on a natural migration that's happening to take advantage of that tail wind we have behind us. i think our model right now is great content with great ads.
6:53 pm
we see the internet needing to have a clean-up of how it looks and feels in the next progression of it. it hasn't changed much in the last 15 years. we've launched a number of different initiatives to clean up not just the content areas but also the advertising area. we launched project devil last september which is the most aggressive brand advertising play on the internet. so if you're a large brand globally and you want to connect with great audience, deep rich content and fantastic and creative i think the combination of a.o.l. and huffington post will be the absolute leader in that space. >> brown: we'll see what happens. tim armstrong and arianna huffington, thank you both very much. >> thanks for having us. >> thank you. >> ifill: again, the major developments of the day. the government of egyptian president hosni mubarak offered new concessions, including a 15% pay raise for public employees. president obama said he believes egyptian officials are "making progress" toward a peaceful transition. and in a speech to the u.s.
6:54 pm
chamber of commerce, mr. obama urged american businesses to start spending more and hiring more. and to hari sreenivasan, for what's on the newshour online. hari? >> sreenivasan: we look at the changing role of egypt's military, as the country moves to a post-mubarak government. judy woodruff blogs about the 100th birthday celebration for ronald reagan in california. and our global health unit reports on the unsolved murders of women in guatemala. all that and more is on our web site, gwen? >> ifill: and that's the newshour for tonight. on tuesday, we'll have another update from margaret warner in cairo. i'm gwen ifill. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> i mean, where would we be without small businesses? >> we need small businesses. >> they're the ones that help drive growth. >> like electricians, mechanics, carpenters. >> they strengthen our
6:55 pm
communities. >> every year, chevron spends billions with small businesses. that goes right to the heart of local communities, providing jobs, keeping people at work. they depend on us. >> the economy depends on them. >> and we depend on them. >> bnsf railway. the engine that connects us. pacific life-- the power to help you succeed.
6:56 pm
and by toyota. and by the alfred p. sloan foundation. supporting science, technology, and improved economic performance and financial literacy in the 21st century. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions captioned by media access group at wgbh
6:57 pm
6:58 pm
6:59 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on